(NEWARK, NJ) -- Spring Sutras, a work of renewal and hope by installation and book artist Karen Guancione, took shape while she was caring for Mary Guancione, her elderly mother who was suffering from dementia. On display now on the fourth floor of the John Cotton Dana Library at Rutgers University–Newark, Spring Sutras features thousands of recycled catalog cards that cascade in hand-sewn, brilliantly translucent strands from a two-story-high skylight, surrounding and touching viewers as they move through the space. Hundreds of faux flowers suspended in the accompanying display cases fill the gallery with swaths of vibrant color.
In stark contrast to the environment in which it was created—what Guancione described as “an endless, exhausting, all-consuming caregiving hell”—Spring Sutras exudes a sense of tranquility and solace. “While caregiving around the clock in the house where my mother had lived for 65 years, I was able to work near her and string together the thousands of pieces of paper—a repetitive, meditative act that enabled me to continue making art,” said Guancione, who was recently awarded a 2016 Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts for Works on Paper.
Funded by a Rutgers–Newark cultural programming grant, the exhibition is one of several projects commemorating the city’s 350th anniversary by drawing inspiration from the nation’s largest and most varied collection of Japanese cherry trees in Newark’s Branch Brook Park. Spring Sutras accompanies a display in the library’s lobby, on loan from the Essex County Parks Department, that details Branch Brook Park’s first planted trees; it is also a fitting prelude to Cherry Blossoms in Winter, a forthcoming multimedia public art project spearheaded by the Rutgers–Newark College of Arts and Sciences that will invite amateur and professional artists from throughout the region to install works in the bare branches of the park’s cherry trees.
More than just a product of the artist’s personal struggles, the installation also celebrates bringing new life to things we discard or forget. Drawing upon the literal Sanskrit meaning of sutra, or a thread of knowledge sewn over time, Guancione chose to work with hand-typed catalog cards—a tool long since abandoned by libraries as a means of indexing their collections. “In an age of digital information, I have relished holding in hand the many singular pieces of paper that once spoke of a vast and impressive array of accumulated knowledge,” she said. “The strung flower garlands celebrate new life and honor the old and departed.”
For Michael Joseph, rare book librarian at Rutgers University Libraries, Guancione’s installation celebrates the way in which libraries as institutions are able to constantly reinvent themselves. “Spring Sutras reaches toward a vision of ecstatic renewal,” explained Joseph. “Intriguingly, the catalog cards suspended like leaves or stars have been assembled in roughly alphabetical order, preserving and transforming not only the librarian’s tools of organization, but the original library vision: it, too, changes and becomes part of what is renewed and endures.”
Spring Sutras runs through the fall at Dana Library (185 University Ave., Newark, NJ 07102). The exhibition is free and open to the public, and an opening reception will be held on Thursday, June 2, from 7:00pm-9:00pm in the Dana Gallery on the fourth floor of the library. For more information, visit libraries.rutgers.edu.
Photo credit: Bruce Riccitelli